Free order of sexism with that Happy Meal?

When you ask for a Happy Meal, as every non-vegan parent knows, your McDonald’s server always asks: “Is this Happy Meal for a boy or girl?”

“Why?” I asked, my first time, a new parent, totally confused.

“So we know which toy to give the child.”

The whole toy with your Happy Meal is, in itself, gross and disturbing. And in spite being a carnivore, I’ve only subjected my family to the experience a couple times usually because my kids got a glimpse of McDonald’s plastic playground from the freeway by our house. As depicted and deconstructed in the film “Supersize Me” Happy Meal toys are relentlessly marketed to kids during any cartoon they happen to be watching not on  PBS. That’s right– you’re up against Hollywood, the fast food industry, and TV.

But nutrition aside, if you go to McDonald’s right now and you are lucky enough to be a boy, your server will offer you 15 choices from which you can pick your toy. If you are a girl– one. You don’t get a choice.

If a brother and sister– or God forbid, a boy and a girl who actually hang out together in spite of being told by the universe they are radically different species– go to McDonald’s together, what are these little kids learning about who is important, who has options as far as her identity and who doesn’t?

This image via Hoyden About Town/

9 thoughts on “Free order of sexism with that Happy Meal?

  1. Just went there and got both “Boy” and “Girl” Happy meals for my children (Daughter-4yrs, Son-2yrs)…Son got a large Green Lantern action figure that had an enlarged “grabber claw” hand that you can operate…Daughter got a plastic ball that opens to find a tiny tiny Dog figure in it (no stickers or anything to decorate it)…it doesn’t do a thing either…Guess what my ride home was like today…:)

  2. I have not been inside a McDonalds in some time, however, my experience is that I am asked “Is this for a boy or a girl?” when purchasing Happy Meals.

    The toy aisle is a perfect example of sexism in shopping, boy toys and girl toys separated into aisles of blue and pink. Boys don’t get kitchen toys (one neighbour of mine even said he did not want his boy playing with “kitchen toys” because they would “girl him up”), which is a bit of a slap in the face to Gordon Ramsay or Anthony Bourdain, no?

    My daughters have quite a collection of Hot Wheels, which they love to motor around with. My friend’s son loves to play princess dress up with my daughters, to boot. Life is a lot tougher to catalogue into “boy or girl” than Ronald McDonald would have us believe.

    • Ken,

      So true. I don’t understand why, when it comes to gender, people don’t seem to get that separate is NOT equal.

      Here’s what Peggy Orenstein wrote in Cinderella Ate My Daughter about segregated shopping:

      “Splitting kids and adults, or for that matter, penguins, into ever tinier categories has proved a surefire way to boost profits. So where there was once a big group called kids we now have toddlers, pre-schoolers, tweens, young-adolescents and older adolescents, each with their own developmental and marketing profile…One of the easiest ways to segment the market is to magnify gender differences or invent them where they did not previously exist.”

      Much more on this on my post “Female desire and the princess culture.”


  3. Recently in the Chronicle, they listed toy industry sales. Big companies like Mattel and Hasbro had great years. With boy toy sales. These toys accounted for something like 400 million in sales. Girl toys had a 10% drop in sales, down to 100 million. Are there 4 times as many boys than girls? Are boy toys 4 times as expensive? Do girls spend more on crafts, which aren’t considered toys? Look at your local Target: one row for babies, one row for girls, and five rows for boys.

    • Nate,

      The inequality is so blatant, I can’t believe people are not more riled up about it. Often, when I write or speak about this, people ask me why I care about trivial stuff like kids toys and programming, but all this polarized gender stereotyping/ segregating is shaping elastic brains.

      Thanks for visiting ReelGirl.


  4. I’m pretty sure those are one of their “gender neutral” toys. Still a shame that there’s only one girl, but I don’t think they’d ask boy/girl in this situation.

    • Hi Lauren,

      If the insane dominance of male smurfs to females forces McDonald’s to recognize its own ridiculousness in asking if the kid is a boy or girl before delivering the designated toy as a permanent policy change, I would say that’s a tiny bit of progress and a good side effect of smurf sexism. I’m curious what the question is now and if it changes when the next blockbuster and accompanying toys come out.

      Thanks for visiting ReelGirl.



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